McKINNEY (CBS11) – For the first time, special prosecutors in the state’s criminal cases, revealed they want Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to face two separate trials.
The first, starts May 1 on the third degree felony charge of Paxton’s alleged failure to register with the state as a representative for an investment adviser.
The second trial will follow and center on the two securities fraud charges, both first degree felonies.
The alleged wrong-doing took place before Paxton was elected Attorney General in November 2014.
Special prosecutor Kent Schaffer says there’s a good reason for holding two trials.
“The cases are not related in any way and so it adds an element of confusion when you’re hearing evidence about the alleged crime, and then you start hearing witnesses talk about something totally different,” said Schaffer.
Paxton’s attorneys told Judge George Gallagher that another special prosecutor, Brian Wice, previously told them they would have only one trial.
Dan Cogdell, an attorney for Paxton said, “I’m surprised because I was told exactly the other position, so I’ve ceased being surprised in this case.”
Prosecutors have the choice if they want to try cases together or separately.
A veteran Dallas criminal defense attorney, who is neither related to the Paxton legal team nor the Republican Party, says he believes prosecutors are going with their stronger case first.
That’s because it would look better going into the second trial with a conviction than an exoneration.
If convicted, Paxton faces up to 99 years in prison for the securities fraud charges and up to ten years in prison on the failure to register charge.
When asked about that, Schaffer denied it. “I’m not going to say that.”
Schaffer, Wice and Nicole DeBorde, a third special prosecutor, want the criminal cases moved out of Collin County, where Paxton is from.
During a hearing Thursday at the Collin County Courthouse in McKinney, the special prosecutors sought to convince the judge that Paxton’s team of lawyers and supporters waged a campaign to taint potential jurors, and as a result, they wouldn’t be able to seat a jury that could be impartial.
“These are extraordinary and unusual things that were done we contend in order to persuade people to form an opinion based on things outside the courtroom,” Schaffer.
Jury selection will begin in late April.
Judge Gallagher didn’t rule on the prosecutors’ motion to move the case out of Collin County. But he said he intends to try to seat a jury here in the county.
Collin County taxpayers are paying to prosecute the state’s case.
Commissioners Court Judge Keith Self, a Republican, says so far, taxpayers have spent more than $250,000 on the investigation and prosecution.
During the hearing, Paxton’s lawyer told the judge the cost to taxpayers will double now that there will be two separate trials.
“Somehow there will be not one trial, but at least two. I think from a judicial services standpoint, given the fee structure in play in this case, that’s absurd,” said Cogdell.
One of Paxton’s supporters has filed a lawsuit seeking to limit how much taxpayers will spend to prosecute the Attorney General.
Judge Self said the county has spent an extra $106,000 in that legal case.
A state appeals court in Dallas blocked Collin County temporarily from paying the special prosecutors in the Paxton case.
On Thursday afternoon, Self, the Commissioners Court Judge, said he realizes two trials will cost taxpayers more, but he said he understands prosecutors have the right to separate the cases.
In addition to the three state charges, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a federal civil lawsuit against Paxton on similar fraud allegations.
While a federal charge threw out the lawsuit, he gave the SEC a chance to refile their case, and the agency did so.
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